If you’ve ever been to the White Mountains before, you know that you don’t have to go far to see spellbinding views, especially during the peak of fall foliage season. While there are plenty of challenging and strenuous hikes in New Hampshire, there are also several more accessible trails for those who want to catch breathtaking views without as much challenge or distance involved. The Artist Bluff Trail in Franconia Notch State Park is one such trail – a short, moderately challenging hike to a spectacular viewpoint. To help you plan your hike, we’ve created this guide with everything you need to know to hike the Artist Bluff Loop trail!
The Artist Bluff Trail: An Overview
As one of the most popular and well-known trails in the White Mountains, Artist Bluff is a wonderful activity for hikers of all levels, especially those seeking an easier, more accessible trail for beginners. Because it’s much easier than many of the summit hikes, it is very family-friendly and dog-friendly as well. There’s a reason why the trail is so well-known – the views from the main overlook are absolutely outstanding.
Here’s a quick snapshot of the Artist Bluff trail:
- Trail Distance: 1.5 miles
- Elevation Gain: 436 feet
- Estimated Completion Time: 0.5 to 1 hour (It took us less than an hour to finish the loop)
- Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
- Parking: There are a few parking lots near Cannon Mountain where you can park and walk to either end of the loop. Don’t park on the road or you could get a ticket/tow!
Things to Know Before Hiking the Artist Bluff Trail
This trail is well-marked and easy to follow, but there are a few things I wish I knew before embarking on the Artist Bluff trail:
- Artist Bluff is most beautiful in the fall. I know, I know, I say this about all of the hikes in New England that I write about…but there really is no season better for hiking in the region than the later months of the year. The leaves turn all kinds of warm colors, the air is crisp and cool – you get the picture.
- You can go either clockwise or counter-clockwise. Many loop trails have a clear direction that’s easiest to follow, but for Artist Bluff, that’s not really the case. You can choose to take the trail clockwise or counter-clockwise, just know that there are two separate trailheads depending on which way you want to to go.
- The trail is extremely muddy after rain. We went to hike this trail after a day of downpour and it was very slippery and muddy. If you choose to do the same, we’d recommend waterproof hiking boots and thick wool hiking socks to keep your feet dry and comfortable.
- The Artist Bluff viewpoint can get crowded quickly. There are several small viewpoints, but the main one overlooking the highway is the most popular. When we went, there were at least a dozen other groups there enjoying the view (on a weekday, no less). If that’s not your scene, we’d recommend getting there early.
- You can combine the trail with a hike on Bald Mountain. There is a split in the trail that leads to Bald Mountain – you can either choose to continue around the loop or go that way. This is a great way to lengthen your hike and avoid crowds, as most people simply hike the loop and leave.
How to Hike the Artist Bluff Trail: Our Review
Finding and Starting the Artist Bluff Trail
My friend and I decided to hike this trail on a Wednesday morning in the fall with my two dogs – one miniature dachshund mix and one husky puppy. Because the trail was said to be fairly easy and gradual, I felt safe bringing the pups along. We parked in an open lot near Cannon Mountain (there were porta-potties here and a few other trail heads nearby) and made our way to where we thought the trail started.
We chose to go clockwise around the trail, beginning at the parking lot area directly in front of Cannon Mountain. While the rest of the trail was well-marked, the trail head was surprisingly obscure. It took us ten minutes or so to figure out where the actual trail began. The only reason we found it was because we followed other groups of people to the edge of a blocked-off parking lot and finding this worn down sign marking the start of the trail:
The beginning of the trail was easy to moderate, featuring mainly dirt pathways with a few rocky areas. Although it was uphill, the incline was very steady, making it easy for me and the dogs to maneuver through the forest toward the top of the trail.
One funny thing we noticed was that the viewpoint wasn’t actually at the highest elevation of the loop. We reached the highest point of the trail and began descending before we saw any views. At one point, we thought we actually missed the overlook altogether, and we were really confused. That wasn’t the case – the turn-off for the overlook is fairly obvious and, if you go during the day, you’re likely to see several other people heading in the same direction.
As we descended toward the overlook, my friend and I both noticed that the trail became much steeper and rockier. If you have sensitive knees, it may make better sense to take the trail clockwise so that you are ascending on these steep rocks rather than going downhill on them.
The Overlook and Descent
Finally, we found a turn-off on the trail that we took to find the famed Artist Bluff viewpoint. The views did not disappoint, with vistas of the nearby pond, the highway, and the tree-covered mountains painted gold, orange, and red in the fall air. It was incredible.
The viewpoint itself is a rocky cliff with a large area for photography, a picnic, or just admiring the views. When we arrived, there were a ton of people there, but we still managed to find a socially distant place to sit and admire the sweeping landscape before us.
When we finally decided to continue onward, the rest of the descent toward the road took just a few minutes and was fairly gradual again. Once we got to the road, we simply walked along the edge of the street until we made it back to the parking lot where we began. All in all, it was a short, quick, and easy hike with some really spectacular rewards, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
Additional Resources for Hiking in New Hampshire
What to Bring
- Breathable hiking clothes – For warmer hikes, you’ll want to stay cool in a sweat-wicking shirt/tank top and breathable pants, like these Patagonia hiking shorts for men and women. For cold-weather hikes, we recommend dressing in layers, including merino wool baselayers for men and women, a down puffer jacket for men and women, and a Northface waterproof outer shell for men and women. And don’t forget a pair of the best women’s and men’s hiking socks in the world! For more information, check out our guides to hiking shorts for men and women and our top tips and gear for hiking in winter.
- Trekking poles – You won’t need these for every single hike, but we suggest throwing them in your car just in case. We recommend the Black Diamond Trail Ergo cork trekking poles, which are lightweight, easy to transport, and durable. For more information, check out our guide to the best trekking poles.
- Water bottle – Having water available at all times is a huge must. To limit disposable plastic, we recommend bringing your own refillable water bottle. We’re obsessed with Hydro Flask water bottles because they keep water cold for hours.
- Sunscreen and bug spray – This should be self-explanatory, but sweatproof sunscreen and DEET bug spray can help you avoid sunburn and bug bites, two of hiking’s most annoying after-effects. Our favorite kind of sunscreen is Sun Bum, as it is free of harsh chemicals and safe for marine life, including coral reefs.
- A brimmed hat or cap – The sun can be brutal in open hikes, so always pack a brimmed hat or cap for day hikes in the sunshine.
- Emergency blanket and first aid kit – We’d strongly recommend bringing a first aid kit and a lightweight emergency blanket on every hike. Why? Because the unfathomable can happen, and it’s always best to play it safe.
- Durable day pack – A durable day pack is the perfect spot to stash all your hiking gear. While any backpack will do, we recommend the Osprey Tempest 20 or the Talon 22 day packs because they’re comfortable and breathable for long hikes. For more information, check out our best day packs for any terrain guide.
Wondering what exactly you should pack for your next hike? Visit our Complete Day Hiking Packing List for our full list and our top gear recommendations.